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BOSTON (CBS) – The Bruins have their fair share of problems right now. They’re losers of four straight and six of their last eight, and their once-insurmountable division lead stands now at a whopping one point. Yet, despite the present-day troubles, the players, fans and even any pom-pom waving media members who may be out there can always think back to last June and feel good. Things could be much worse.
For proof, look no further than Vancouver.
Out in Vancouver, the Canucks are in a similar downslide. Well, somewhat. They still hold a healthy division lead and will head into the playoffs as a No. 2 seed, but they’ve lost six of their last eight games (one in a shootout, one in overtime) and they’re struggling to find themselves heading down the final stretch of the season.
Fortunately, though, Vancouver Province columnist Tony Gallagher is going to Vancouver’s favorite source of inspiration: excuses.
In a column titled, “Vancouver Canucks roster changes pointless thanks to NHL’s ever-changing rules,” Gallagher argues that the Canucks are victims of an NHL that doesn’t enforce its rules on a consistent basis, at least not enough for any team to plan ahead and build a roster. Naturally, that idea led to … rationalizing last June’s Stanley Cup loss to the Boston Bruins.
“When the league went to calling all the hooking, holding and interference anywhere on the ice, the Vancouver Canucks and some other teams committed to a speed team with a high skill level, with grit being one of the lesser considerations,” Gallagher explains with nonchalance as he discredits “grit,” a word that is truly treated like a four-letter word in Vancouver.
“This was going to be a new skill era,” Gallagher lamented. “That was fine for about a year and a half – and that team got all the way to the Stanley Cup Final – at which point the rules changed to suit the Boston Bruins, who just happened to be owned by … let’s not go there. We saw what happened.”
Ah, yes. The patented Gallagher move – bringing up an asinine theory in a story, but then immediately saying he’s not trying to make said asinine point. It’s an art form, really. This time, it’s commissioner Gary Bettman doing a solid for his pal Jeremy Jacobs and rigging the Stanley Cup Final. Last June, before that series even started, he claimed Colin Campbell may or may not have had a hand in the officiating that may or may not have favored the Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, only by following it up with this beauty: “We’re not saying it was, but it’s an odd coincidence.”
How can you say something, only to follow it up by saying you’re not saying it? Brains literally cannot process this strategy, and hats off to Gallagher for expertly employing it when it suits his imagination.
And remember, this is the same Gallagher who said on live television that it’s against the fighter’s code to make someone fight twice in a period and that Dale Weiese weighs 40 pounds less than Shawn Thornton. Fortunately, Thornton was on air, too, to clear things up before they got out of hand.
Unfortunately, Thornton was not in Vancouver to vet Gallagher’s story before it went live this week, thereby leaving the writer to say whatever he’d like. But don’t worry – this hometown whine is not a hometown whine. Gallagher said so.
“The Canucks lost [the Stanley Cup Final] for lots of other reasons as well, so this isn’t to hometown whine,” Gallagher wrote, “but certainly the interpretation of the rules in the Final did not help the speed team, but rather the more physical Bruins.”
Can you believe that this is still a topic of conversation somewhere? Nine full months after the Bruins lifted Lord Stanley’s Cup one-by-one on the Vancouver ice, the biggest reason remains that the officiating favored those bullying, menacing wrestlers/boxers/MMA fighters who play for the Bruins rather than the super-skilled speed skaters on the Canucks. It had nothing to do with Brad Marchand scoring five goals in the series, or skilled forwards like Patrice Bergeron or David Krejci, or the talent of Nathan Horton — oh wait, he was knocked out of the series after a hit from one of those non-gritty speedsters on Vancouver’s roster.
And of course, it had nothing to do with Roberto Luongo’s Grade A meltdown (3.41 GAA, .891 save percentage, lasted 8:35 in a clinching situation in Game 6, tires, pumping, etc., etc., etc.).
Nope. Nine months later, here we are, worried about the officiating from last June. And why are we worried about it? Because that’s the only reason the Canucks are losing these days, too! Even captain Henrik Sedin said so!
“This,” Sedin said of the great game of hockey, “might be the only sport where rules change throughout the season depending upon where you are and what game you’re playing.”
As someone who keeps an NHL rulebook in his bookshelf, I can in fact confirm that the book does not change. Gary Bettman, Colin Campbell and Brendan Shanahan don’t come to my house with Wite-Out and Sharpies and rewrite the rules. It’s a book. There must be thousands of them. Going around the world and editing all of them would be taxing, especially with all of those videos Shanahan has to make.
Alas, as we in Boston can also attest, it’s sometimes difficult to figure out exactly why a talented team is struggling so mightily. So why not just blame it on the officiating?
“Having met with the physical reality of this regression with this ever-changing rule interpretation, the Canucks have tried to adjust their roster to bring about more grit,” Gallagher wrote. “But when the Sedins can be hooked, held and interfered with as though it were the dead puck era and the same can be done to Ryan Kesler, David Booth and others, planning a team is essentially a waste of time.”
Ah, but rats! Here come some pesky facts to refute this hometown non-whining. The Canucks rank ninth in the league in power-play opportunities. In their six most recent losses, the Canucks have been handed a whopping six penalty minutes more than their opponents, with the power play going 1-for-14 in that span. Is that the referees’ fault? Should the referees score for the Canucks? Or is that the Sedins and Kesler are just too exhausted from all their fighting through holds and hooks to find the energy to score on the power play?
Likewise, back in June, when the big bully Bruins were allowed to run roughshod over their sensitive friends from British Columbia, it was actually Boston that was the recipient of 21 more penalty minutes, and again, it was the Canucks’ power play that went cold, going 2-for-33.
Again, though, it was that darn officiating that held the Canucks back!
Look, I’m not here to defend NHL officiating. If anything, I’m sure I could sit down with Tony Gallagher and anyone else who watches hockey every night for hours talking about how horrific the league’s referees perform every single game. There’s no debate there.
But Gallagher – and anyone who believes his story – is simply going to have to stop with the woe-is-us victim routine, which implies that the Canucks are the only team that is affected by such an arbitrary officiating in the league.
And they’re going to have to move on from the Stanley Cup. It wasn’t about the refs then, and it certainly isn’t about the refs now. No, no, no. This is all about Vancouver, and for Gallagher, lamenting the officiating of last June’s playoff series, to borrow a term, is essentially a waste of time.
Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelFhurley